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CREMATION, BURIAL & ALTERNATIVES

 

CONTEMPORARY BURIAL

Today, graves are usually ‘dressed’. That is, they are surrounded with fake green grass or carpet to cover the areas that have been disturbed by the process of digging the grave and sometimes they are also used to cover the actual mound of dirt that has come out of that grave. That dirt will usually later be used to back-fill the hole. Additionally, a mechanical lowering device is set up to hold and lower the coffin automatically. Sometimes planks of wood are used surrounding the opening of the hole for stability. If stability is a large concern, there is at times a capsule inside the grave which is a metal lining that can be removed before the grave is filled. Some cemeteries will cart the dirt from the hole to somewhere out of sight and return it after the mourners have left. Many cemeteries will only allow one burial to take place at any given time; some cemeteries will provide a canopy (which may or may not be branded), and chairs for the comfort of the people attending.

All of these measures create a disconnect from the actual point of burial; the process of placing the body of a person into the earth.

Ritualising the process of body disposal through the act of burial has been happening for thousands of years. In the vast majority of cases, there is a ceremony that takes place at the graveside prior to the lowering of the coffin or body into the grave.

Funeral workers often say that some of the saddest things they have witnessed are burials where no family or friends attend. It is as though, if no one is there to ritualise and mourn the interment of a person’s body into the earth, then the life of the deceased is somehow sad or lonely and deserves a special kind of empathy.

It is worth noting that different religions have their own very particular customs and practices in relation to burial. Christians have a committal and prayer when a body is laid to rest in the ground and in some denominations, the grave is blessed. If the burial is in a churchyard the presiding person for that interment must be the Priest or Minister from that Parish unless the church no longer owns the cemetery or they have granted permission for someone else to do it.

The two other communities closely tied to burial are the Muslim and the Jewish communities.

The Jewish community has a very specific approach to death care and burial, a community approach steeped in ancient traditions. They have an organisation called the Chevra Kadisha – the Jewish Burial society – who come together to support everything from the washing and shrouding of the body to the burial itself. Every stage has its own ritual and purpose and the community work together to fulfill those roles.

The Muslim religion sees bodies traditionally buried within twenty-four hours of death, wrapped in a shroud and without a coffin. From the point of death, it is largely a community effort where people come together to wash, wrap and inter their community member, and often they all participate in backfilling the grave themselves. We have a lot to thank the Muslim community for in the natural death movement – they have led the way and set the precedent for both community involvement and shroud burial for decades.

Remove religion from burial and there still is ceremony and ritual attached to it. Contemporary and socially-acceptable ways of framing the interment of the bodies of our families and friends into the earth include the expression of sentiment, readings and feelings expressed through music. One of the most common and often repeated rituals at a contemporary burial is the symbolic throwing of something into the grave and onto the coffin once it has been lowered. Traditionally, this is dirt but, over the years, it has more commonly become dry sand. Some now also choose flower petals. Throwing sand into the grave is symbolic of the finality of death and the respect felt for the deceased. The petals, too, express the beauty of the relationship that was shared with that person and the joy and happiness they brought into people’s lives.

When it comes to burial, consider what you want the space to be. You can ask not to have the grave dressed or the dirt covered, and be involved in deciding what they would like the space to look like including mats, chairs, canopies, candles, etc. The body of the person who has died can be lowered into the earth by hand using straps rather than a lowering device. If it is not the look and feel people are comfortable with, ask for other options. As a family and community group, you can also decide to backfill the grave yourself in some places.

It is possible for someone organising a burial – and indeed advisable – to attend the cemetery and pick the place of interment. Sometimes this task is left to the funeral director or cemetery management which is not always ideal.

Know that you can have a shroud burial – without a coffin - is legal across Australia and cemetery management can be persuaded to allow this even if they initially reject the request. Where it is not permitted, it is an issue created by policy, not legislation, and policy can be changed with education. Note, that some cemeteries require the body to enter the cemetery in a coffin and be taken out of that coffin at the graveside.

It is wise to check with a cemetery in relation to the rules under which burial will take place. Certain sections of particular cemeteries require memorialisation to varying degrees, ranging from no markings at all to full-scale concrete and marble creations. Some cemeteries do not hold their plots in perpetuity, some require a standard depth grave to be dug and some will not allow multiple burials in one plot.

It is possible to arrange a burial without the involvement of a funeral director. It is the right of the executor or senior next of kin to do everything required for the burial to take place although there are paperwork requirements that vary from state to state. It is necessary to speak to the management of the cemetery well ahead of time to find out their requirements for paperwork and permissions, transport and the interment process.

Generally, there are very few legal requirements for a burial to take place but there are some that the cemetery management can enforce. Most notably, a burial – be it coffin or shroud – requires that a name plate be attached to the outside of the coffin or shroud. This name plate must clearly identify the deceased.

Burials must be organised by the Executor or the Senior Next of Kin and the law clearly sets out the guidelines for deciding who that person is. That person is the one who must give permission for the interment of a body.

Finally, a person can be buried on private land, as long as they have the right permissions. The initial inquiries should be made to the environmental officer of your local council.

 

FLAME CREMATION

The actual process of cremation happens in stages and is not all about the flame; cremations work based on fuel and airflow as well. It is a science to get it right each time and there are a number of variables. The weight of the body and the amount of body fat affects how the cremation runs and the time that it takes. For some crematory operators, it is a general rule of thumb that women need to go into a cool cremator. This is because women can have more body fat which, if placed in a hot cremator, can cause some smoking and the escape of fluid. Thankfully, that is not a common occurrence. The coffin will usually burn away rather quickly, and it is the torso area of the body that takes the longest to turn to ash. Some crematoriums will do what is called a ‘rake over’ of the remains part way through the cremation. This is where the doors are opened slightly and a large metal rake is inserted into the retort and used to rake through remains, spreading them out for a more even burn. The skull is usually opened at this point, if it has not done so naturally, and the organs in the chest cavity, already partly burned, are spread out and separated a little. At this stage, airflow is key, as good airflow will enable a good, clean burn that will create the light-coloured ash most people are used to encountering.

Once a cremation is completed – again this can often be determined by sight and governed by temperature – the cremator is opened up entirely and the remains raked out into a cooling bucket. Once cool, they are laid out and the foreign objects such as ceramic or titanium joints, pins, screws and staples are removed. A strong magnet will remove the magnetic materials and a close examination is needed to remove anything else that could damage the cremulator.

The cremulator is the next stage. This machine has strong, sharp blades that essentially grind the remains into the ash that we are familiar with. Before this, much of the human remains are in pieces but still recognisable. In some places, it is illegal to return remains to a family in a recognisable form; in other places, it is perfectly acceptable, but most crematoriums, as a matter of course, will grind the remains to ash. Some crematoriums will only put them through the grinding process once; some go through stages of grinding to reduce the ashes down to as fine a powder as possible. Only then are they ready to hand back to the family or next of kin.

When it comes to preparing a body for cremation, there are a few key points to note. The first and golden rule is that Pacemakers must be removed. Pacemakers will explode as will anything else that has a battery. You may need a degree and years of training to insert a pacemaker into a person’s body, but removing them is much more straightforward. A small incision is made directly above the pacemaker, and gently the area below the pacemaker is squeezed, essentially popping it out. The wires need to be severed, tucking the ends back into the body and sealing the wound. It is not always that simple – sometimes they do not pop out and need to be cut out of the fat that has grown around them over time, but with patience, care and a little practice, it is possible. It is a process that a mortician will do, much like all of the other non-embalming mortuary care in Australia, it can be learned on the job.

Other things to note about the preparation of bodies for cremation include the full and complete understanding that, in some states, coffins are not a legal requirement for a cremation to be conducted. While it is often the case that the body needs to be laid on a hard and flat surface that will run easily over the rollers (used to slide a body into a cremator), there is no requirement that there need to be sides or a lid. To that end, things called shroud bearers or carriages have been developed which are used to convey shrouded bodies into a cremator without the need for a coffin. They are also much cheaper than a coffin.

Beyond the issue of avoiding potential explosion and the decisions around coffins, there is little else that needs to be done to prepare a body for cremation.

A final consideration, in regard to the process of cremation, is the environment. Increasingly, we are seeing rising concerns in relation to the environmental impacts of flame cremation. More specifically, the atmospheric pollution from the release of poisons like mercury, as well as the carbon release associated with the running of the process. Cremators are fuel-fired machines using electricity or gas and run at incredibly hot temperatures, typically around 850 degrees, for several hours. The average cremation takes 2-3 hours to complete.

In the UK, the emissions from cremators have become such a concern that all crematoriums are now required to attach mercury abatement systems to their cremators, an extremely costly process. One estimate says it nearly doubled the cost of the initial cremator purchase. In Australia, we have stricter rules than other places in the world about emissions, but we are not yet addressing these concerns to the same degree.

 

NATURAL BURIAL

The following section is written by the Natural Death Advocacy Network (NDAN) and can be found here on their website - https://ndan.com.au/resources/natural-burial

Natural burial is the practice of burying a human body in the earth, in a manner that allows for natural decomposition with minimal impact on the surrounding ecosystem. -Natural Death Advocacy Network(NDAN)

For those who value the environment, natural burial might be the most authentic way of honouring both post-mortal bodies, and the cycle of life. Natural burial is both a type of body interment or method of ‘disposal’, as well as a site and place for memorialisation for someone who has died. Natural burial can be described practically, and also poetically or metaphorically, in terms of what happens above ground and then what happens below ground, but essentially, natural burial encourages the nutrients in a body to return to the earth in the most environmentally friendly way possible.

From a practical perspective, natural burial is about disposing of a body in a manner that allows for it to decompose in a manner more akin to composting, where the nutrients from the body itself are made accessible to the soil microbes and plant life. What attracts people to natural burial practices varies greatly. For some, it is the reciprocity of returning to nature - your body and its components being disintegrated and reabsorbed into new living entities. Recognition of your body being part of nature. For others, it is far more utilitarian - it is far quicker in terms of decomposition rates than ‘conventional’ burial in a cemetery under concrete and granite.

Some are drawn to the aesthetic aspect of natural burial - they like the idea of their body being in a natural environment. For people who survive the deceased, a natural burial site can be a nicer, more ‘alive’ place to visit in the future; a place that will thrive without needing maintenance.

For some natural burial has financial incentives – you don’t purchase a coffin (N.B.: you will still be required to hire a coffin to enter into a cemetery - it is just not specified in law that you must then be interred in that coffin).

Perhaps the first consideration to achieving a natural burial is depth. A natural burial is one that occurs in a shallow depth grave. The deeper you lay a deceased body in the earth, the slower the decomposition and the less the earth receives the nutrients from the remains.

While it varies between States and Territories, Australian legislation generally requires that the human remains need to be completely covered in soil, one meter deep at its shallowest point. This depth is within the guidelines of what is required for a Natural Burial. At this shallow depth it allows for a much faster decomposition due to warmer soil, aeration and oxygen flow and of course it has more insect and bacteria life within it.


But it’s not all about depth. With a natural burial –

  • There is to be only one body per burial plot. For people who would like to be buried together, this needs to occur side by side, as opposed to one on top of the other, which is what happens in a double or triple depth plot in a conventional cemetery.

  • The body is treated with natural products, such as essential oils, in place of the modern preparations most commonly used in the conventional industry to prepare and maintain a person’s body after death. Natural burial prohibits embalming, preparation using chemicals and disinfectants, temporary preservations, plastic eye caps, stitching of a person’s mouth etc.

  • Embalming - natural burial grounds will not accept a body that has been embalmed. The chemicals present in embalming fluid are well documented as being carcinogenic and not suitable for the organic principles of natural burial. Likewise, a body that has undergone a postmortem, some natural burial grounds will request that the viscera bag placed within it be removed. It is important to note that while these will often be the ‘rules’ of a natural burial ground, there will be some cemeteries that, on compassionate grounds, may waive these under particular circumstances.

  • What the body is dressed in will often be stipulated as also needing to be biodegradable. What does that mean? The optimum material to be used to dress or wrap the body is made of natural, protein-based fibres such as wool or silk. Organic plant-based fibres such as hemp. linen and cotton are also acceptable. (This means that a shroud can comprise of everyday cotton bed sheets). Some leniency may be given for garments that also contain RAYON (sometimes also called VISCOSE). Garments or fabric that is made of BAMBOO also comes under this category. These fibres are not naturally occurring but are instead a form of regenerated or ‘artificial’ cellulose. They are biodegradable but not ‘natural’. Clothing containing any of the following fibre compositions should be avoided:

    • Polyester

    • Nylon/Polymide

    • Acrylic

    • Acetate

    • Elastane
      Please note that any blend containing the above-mentioned synthetics should not be used to dress a body for natural burial. You might also like to consider if the garments have fastenings made of plastic or metal.

  • As above, only natural fibres can be on the body. That goes for clothing, shoes, hair ties, jewellery – everything. Most metals come from the earth and are permitted to return to the earth with a deceased person so things like gold tooth fillings or wedding rings are most often allowed.

  • Ideally, natural burial is also a shroud burial. You do not need a coffin to be buried in a grave (although in some States it will be required for transport to the grave). There are differing schools of thought on this point. Some natural burial grounds would prefer you did not use a coffin however some do make it a requirement, citing the added advantage of the oxygen in the coffin aiding the decomposition process. If you do choose to use a coffin, it needs to be of natural and biodegradable materials. Certainly, no non-biodegradable plastic. There are some wonderful cardboard, wicker, seagrass and bamboo coffins becoming available in Australia. It is worth noting that the management of a burial ground may want to see the coffin before they agree to the burial. They are ultimately responsible for the integrity of what goes into the earth which is of utmost importance for the process of natural burial.

  • You are limited by what you can put inside a coffin or shroud as well. Things made of plastic for example are not permitted while handwritten paper notes, letters and drawings are. Also, families and communities can spend days and weeks decorating a burial shroud (or a coffin). Water based paints, cotton for sewing, all of the things used to decorate should be biodegradable and the options are many. The process of decorating can be quite a cathartic; a healing and bonding experience and it is a wonderful way to involve many people, giving them a sense of agency and ownership and the feeling of having contributed to the after-death care of the person through this simple gesture.


The point of Natural Burial is to offer a system of body disposition that is not just environmentally friendly but actually adds value to the earth. The process of natural burial can include the following:

  • Wooden chocks are used to keep the casket/body off the ground in the grave to allow for aeration.

  • Vegetative matter is used to line the bottom of the grave. Tree roots inside the grave do not need to be cut unless necessary and may be pinned down with a u-shaped pin and released when the grave is backfilled.

  • The use of Burial Sticks, a method developed by Dr. Billy Campbell. Burial sticks are dry limbs from the surrounding environment and can contain the spores of fungi which help as well. They are placed below and above the body to allow for oxygen to circulate which aids decomposition and helps against the formation of adipocere (a waxy substance that can form in the presence of much body fat, slowing the decomposition process). They also assist aeration, allow channels for water and nutrient transport and promote new root growth.

  • Incorporation of organic vegetative material to graves, such as straw, wood chips, ferns and flowers. These provide carbon to balance the high nitrogen levels during decomposition which add to the effectiveness of the sticks.

  • If flowers are used they should be wrapped paper not plastic and fastened with raffia or twine instead of rubber bands. If using a florist they should be happy to comply with these wishes.

  • The hole for burial should be dug by hand, approximately 1.2m deep, and backfilled by hand if at all possible.

  • The grave is not concrete lined.

  • Where possible, there should be no mechanical lowering devices used for the burial; as much as possible, carrying onto the grave and lowering is done by hand.

Natural burial is the best thing you can do with your body.

 

CONSERVATION BURIAL

This section contains extracts from the Churchill Fellowship Report, by Fellow and President of AHFA, Bec Lyons.

Conservation burial was pioneered by Dr. Billy and Kimberley Campbell in Winchester, South Carolina. They established Ramsey Creek Nature Preserve and it was the first of its kind in the world. Dr. Campbell is both the town’s FP (similar to an Australian GP) and a staunch advocate for environmental preservation.

At Ramsey Creek, burials occur in and around the trees of forests and in meadows and fields - the graves are mounded up high in places, which means that they do not need to be buried so deep. In places, ferns are growing on graves, and in the sunnier places, wildflowers. There’s wildlife in abundance. There are gravel paths in the main area and the paths have been formed through the bush over many years; covered in leaf litter, it makes for a beautiful walk. The trails are named and the site has been mapped for ease of access. The site undergoes multi-seasonal and ongoing botanical surveys to ensure their activities are contributing to ecological restoration.

Conservation Burial is a revolutionary business model of operation that actively works to preserve the flora and fauna of a site. Essentially, if a 10-acre block of land is acquired, 2 of those acres would be set aside for natural burial. The Management can be a ‘not for profit’ structure or a ‘for-purpose’ (for profit with a social conscience). In the case that it is for-purpose, an outside non-profit generally holds a conservation easement over that land (in some cases not-for-profit grounds welcome another non-profit to hold a conservation easement for them as well). Profits made from the plots sold in that natural burial ground go into the maintenance of that land, but also to the habitat protection and restoration and the acquisition of new land. Ideally, this is neighbouring land which then creates wildlife corridors. Dr. Campbell has outlined best practices for Conservation Burial,
see them here.

There is also the very human benefit of providing this type of place to a community. As noted on the Campbells’
Memorial Ecosystems website: ‘to keep a project meaningful for the local community it is important that 150 years from now people are still making connections to the natural space, forged by burials being done at that time’ (Campbell, 2019).


Since its inception, the notion of conservation burial has taken off across the USA and there is now an organisation representing them - the Conservation Burial Alliance.

 

OCEAN/SEA BURIAL

Burial at sea has long been regarded as a viable alternative to burial and cremation. It is legal and possible in Australia, with the correct permissions.

From the website of the Australian Government, Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (please note there may also be State or Territory based requirements):


Burial at sea

In Australia, burials at sea are regulated under the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981, administered by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.

Burials at sea—loaded in Australia or conducted on an Australian vessel—require a permit. The permit application form must be completed and sent with a copy of the death certificate and the application fee. The permit approval process usually takes 3-4 working days, although our statutory timeframe allows longer for processing if required. Additional approvals may be required under the relevant state or territory law. Check your state’s environment website to see if additional approvals are required in your jurisdiction.

Scattering of ashes at sea does not constitute burial at sea and does not require a permit under the Sea Dumping Act.


Required documents for applying for a burial at sea Permit

 

A permit application must be submitted with:

  • a completed burial at sea - Permit application form

  • a medical certificate of death, or Coroner’s order for burial, or order authorising the disposal of a body

  • payment of the permit application fee of $1675.


Processing is most efficient when application forms are submitted complete with payment and supporting documentation. Contact details for the application should be up to date in case correspondence is required.

 

Reasons for applying for a burial at sea


An application for a permit to perform a burial at sea requires that individuals provide a reason for requesting a burial at sea. Reasons include having a demonstrated connection to the sea such as retired or active navy personnel, fishermen or mariner.

While this is a requirement of the application, permits can still be granted to individuals that do not have a demonstrated connection to the sea. Individuals that may wish to be buried at sea should make their wishes (and the reasons for their wishes) known within their will, as well as notifying family and loved ones. This will allow the appropriate person to request a sea burial on their behalf.


Sea burial locations

Sea burials are only permitted in waters with a depth greater than 3000 metres. Sea burial sites must not conflict with other uses of the sea, such as trawling/fishing grounds. Due to these constraints, sea burial sites are usually located a long distance offshore. This can create logistical challenges in arranging the burial.

While not compulsory, it is recommended that the person arranging the sea burial contact a funeral home to manage the logistics. Another option is to contact a local charter operator who may be able to provide advice on an appropriate site.


Appropriate preparation for sea burials

The Sea Dumping Act requires that the body is properly prepared for burial at sea.

Requirements include the body being sewn into a shroud made of a very strong material and weighted sufficiently to ensure the rapid sinking and permanent submersion of the body.

If you need to correspond on this issue, you can contact the Sea Dumping Section at:

Email: 
seadumping@awe.gov.au

or

Sea Dumping Section
Environment Approvals Division
Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment
GPO Box 858
Canberra ACT 2601

Depending on your State, you may be required to work with a funeral director. There are several funeral directors in Australia who are happy to facilitate sea burials and will work with you to establish an estimate of costs.

 

ALKALINE HYDROLYSIS

This section contains extracts from the Churchill Fellowship Report, by Fellow and President of AHFA, Bec Lyons.

Alkaline Hydrolysis is a process of chemical reduction whereby organic and protein-based materials are reduced to liquid. There are different ways of doing this using both pressurised machines with high temperature and unpressurised machines with a low temperature. This is a relatively new method of body disposal, which is both a disruptive technology and a working technology. This process is known by many names including flameless cremation, water cremation, Resomation, Aquamation. It is legal in over 20 states of the USA so far and
Resomation is now being picked up now for introduction in Europe.

Resomation is a company that offers Alkaline Hydrolysis. There are several companies who offer different versions of this process. The following is specific to the Resomation process -

Sandy Sullivan is the designer and supplier of the Resomation process. The Resomation machine goes to 150 degrees Celsius with a cycle time of 4 hours. Sullivan believes that, with refinement, this process will eventually become half that. Sullivan has proven that this high-pressure process also created sterilised remains. In low-temperature processes, meaning temperatures at 100 Celsius or less using atmospheric pressure, achieving full sterilisation can be variable and quite problematic.

The Resomation process has been installed in various states in America. The University of California has done over 1200 of these high-temperature processes.

The amount of the chemical used in this process is about 5% by volume - the other 95% is water. Recently the
Dutch government commissioned a report which has determined that the effluent water from this process contains no DNA nor does it contain anything harmful and as such it is completely safe to go into the water treatment system.


The body of the person who has died is prepared naturally. Nothing metal has to be removed – which means bodies may move through this process even with a pacemaker. Resomation is inexpensive to run, there is no atmospheric pollution and it is not a labour-intensive process. For those who do not want to be buried, Sullivan believes it is the better alternative to flame cremation and it calls for gentler handling of a person’s remains with much less invasive preparation required.

The body goes into a silk bag – there is no coffin required – and is then placed inside the chamber of the machine. The process takes a few hours and the result is pure white bone, which can be made into ‘ashes’ to return to the family.

Important for people who do not want to be buried, this technology is a much better alternative to flame cremation as there is no atmospheric pollution and the water byproduct is treated to a safe pH level and released back into the water cycle.

 

HUMAN COMPOSTING

This section contains extracts from the Churchill Fellowship Report, by Fellow and President of AHFA, Bec Lyons.

Human Composting is also known as Natural Organic Reduction. It is the process of reducing a human body into soil. There are several companies in USA offering different versions of this. Some do it completely naturally with a process that takes 6+ months; others do it in a controlled environment in much less time.

Human Composting was pioneered by Katrina Spade, who has been developing this for over a decade. Originally referred to as the Urban Death Project, her company is now called
Recompose. They are a death care company and the inventors of recomposition, a process that gently converts human remains into soil.

The following is written specifically about
Recompose:

The human composting process essentially sees a body placed into a vessel located in a purpose-built facility. It is a controlled environment and it takes approximately a month for the entire remains, including bones, hair and teeth to break down. They then cure that material for a further 2 weeks. There is no DNA left at the conclusion of the process, no tissue or any trace of the remains. Eventually, this process will be completely interactive; ideally families can be present for the interment into the composting vessel. At thor present location, this is not possible, but their forever home is currently being constructed and this will be where families can come and spend time.

Recompose offer the soil back to the families at the end of the process. If a family does want to take the soil home, they will instruct them on how to spread the material, mix it with soil to add the compost nutrients to the existing soil. There are best practices for handling the compost that has been developed throughout their trial processes and they will be shared and implemented.

Just as with ashes, there are some families who never collect them or don’t feel as though they want to take them home. To address this, they have also partnered with a forest in Southern Washington, where the soil will be used to revitalise a formerly mismanaged temperate rainforest. This is a lovely offering for families who do not wish to put the compost to their own use.

Spade has also put a lot of thought into developing a framework for ritual – as a team they were not just looking at the composting process, they had a holistic approach. They consider everything that they may need for the system to work and deliver on good grief and bereavement outcomes for families.

 

OPEN AIR PYRE CREMATIONS

This section contains extracts from the Churchill Fellowship Report, by Fellow and President of AHFA, Bec Lyons.

There is only one secular and volunteer run open air pyre in the USA and it belongs to the remarkable community of people in Crestone, Colorado. The following is written specifically about them:


Crestone End Of Life Project (CEOLP)

Paul Klopenburg started doing outdoor cremations a very long time ago – the winter of 1994; he initially built a ‘moveable-on demand’ cremation pyre to assist when a friend of his died and a few years later, in 1998, he began using this in his hometown. He would haul around the portable pyre towed by a pickup truck and go where needed - this continued until 2006. By then Klopenburg and Stephanie Gaines, another local, decided there needed to be more organisation, so they stopped doing cremations with the portable structure and took a further 2 years to educate and advocate for a fixed public pyre to be established. They worked to put all the structure and permissions in place and the Crestone End of Life Project was born.

The first cremation at the site was on 27th January 2008, and there are now over  70 copper plaques marking the people that have been cremated there. The plaques contain the names and dates of the people cremated there and a symbol, no words or sayings. However, on approach to the Pyre by the roadside, there is an information booth that they have nicknamed the Celestial Bus Stop, and it is full of written information in relation to the Pyre and the project.

The project has over 100 volunteers, from the people who care for the dead, those who do the paperwork and deal with the permits, someone to do the ceremony, a fire team to run the cremation itself, another team to collect the bones the following day and a person to oversee and coordinate it all. It is truly a community network of care.

Cremations always occur in the morning, around 7 am. The entire community is invited to attend - unless the family would like it private. Everyone forms a guard of honour and lays an offering of Juniper on the body before the pyre is lit.

This style of cremation is a very visible process; everything happens with people watching. The fire team needs to be prepared to work together for a smooth process. There is never a visual impact, however, no one sees the body. They have developed ways of dealing with the potential problematic areas of the torso etc., without exposing the attendants watching to the intricate details of their process.

This kind of cremation has similar requirements to retort cremations where any pacemakers etc. need to be removed first. Because the Coroner is responsible for signing off on every disposition, they have medical doctors who volunteer their time to come and remove them along with any medical equipment like lines, bags and pumps, etc. in preparation for the cremation.

Fire bans are an issue – if there is a total fire ban then they cannot do a cremation, but they do have a funeral home in nearby Alamosa, Rogers, who are happy to collect and refrigerate a person until the cremation can be performed.

CEOLP recognises that as a group, one problem is natural attrition. Most of the volunteers are between 50-70 years old and the physical side of the work, and the fact that they themselves are aging, means that they need to bring in younger people to ensure it continues, as well as that those who have registered for this will have their wishes honoured.

 

ASHES OPTIONS

Solidified Remains

This section contains extracts from the Churchill Fellowship Report, by Fellow and President of AHFA, Bec Lyons.

Solidified Remains is a new form of human remains which entered the market in late 2019. It is the brainchild of Justin Crowe, who developed the technology to offer a brand-new way to approach human ashes. He had to invent a new term for this form, choosing ‘solidified remains’ to represent the process.

Justin created a company called
Parting Stone, through which he offers this process. Essentially, this is a ceramic process which results in stone-like remains. The ashes are purified and through a kiln firing process, the result is the production of “stones”. The energy cost of this process is comparable to that of creating a coffee cup.

At present, the process takes about three weeks. The actual process, however, can be done in less than three days and once it has been streamlined, three days will most likely be the standard turnaround.

It started when Crowe realised all the options for what to do with a person’s ashes, such as glass, jewellery, keepsake urns, etc. are all just bandages for the actual problem; only a part of the ash is used for these things, whilst the rest has no use
– there is still no way of interacting with them. In order to address this, he received a grant through Los Alamos National Laboratory to investigate a new way to process the cremated remains and solidify them – all of them – into stone-like remains that can be then given back to the family after cremation. Solidified remains are unique because they use the entire amount of ash.

With this process, families no longer receive ashes – they get 40-60 stones. Families no longer have to worry about what to do with a remainder of ash, the ‘leftovers’, after a portion is put into jewellery, decanted into an urn or turned to a diamond, etc.


Parting Stone does not currently work with people outside the USA due to repatriation requirements of remains, but this is being worked on at the moment. Essentially, the remains are sterile after this process and so there will be no hazard to transporting them.

 

LET YOUR LOVE GROW

This section contains extracts from the Churchill Fellowship Report, by Fellow and President of AHFA, Bec Lyons.

Bob Jenkins, the founder of
Let Your Love Grow, is no stranger to end of life, having come from a background of funeral directing. Due to Jenkins’ research, he now knows that ashes in their raw form are of no benefit and, in some cases, are harmful to the environment and yet a great number of people appreciate the narrative around returning ashes to nature.

Jenkins first worked with a man who came up with the idea of turning ashes into potting mix for roses and the like. Although it fell through, Jenkins and his wife Annette, a pharmacist, decided to continue to pursue the idea but with a completely organic approach. They got communal ashes from a pet crematory that were destined for landfill and started experimenting with them, however, found that their plants were dying. So, they put together a team of scientists to look at why and it was established just how toxic ashes are to the land.

The product,
Let Your Love Grow is a specially formed organic mixture, similar to a bag of compost you would buy in a garden centre, available for use with humans and pets. As an end product, Jenkins has tested this and also knows that it works for growing hemp, fruit and vegetables. Further, the products of those plants are safe for humans to consume.

Jankins’ research has shown that the bone, in particular, must be disbursed; root stems will turn away from cremated remains because of the sodium content - this is why, Jenkins points out, products like some biodegradable urns will not address the toxicity of the ash and should not be used with seeds and young plants.

The product is made in mass amounts and then aged. Essentially, Jenkins uses green waste products in the formulation of his recipe, and this is done on a regional basis. His recipe can be replicated worldwide and modified to enhance the local flora and fauna specific to that region. The packaging is natural, using no glue and only water-based ink. According to Jenkins, the process has a low carbon footprint; all that it uses is the machinery for the digging and making of the compost.